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Navigating a world forever changed

How travel bloggers are coping with the pandemic

By Kara Santos Published Jan 07, 2021 10:36 pm Updated Jan 07, 2021 10:45 pm

No other industry has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic more than travel and tourism. While many people were forced to shift to online work and have been hunkering inside their homes for months, it’s been doubly difficult for those whose work and livelihood involves traveling.

Travel bloggers, in particular, make their living by providing travel-related content online. Guides which are usually provided for free, rely heavily on advertisements, sponsorships and affiliate links. But when all the borders shut down and restrictions were put in place, interest in travel, along with blog traffic and revenue, dipped to an all-time low.

What has kept travel bloggers busy during this past year without travel, and how do they plan for a future that is yet uncertain? Here are some insights they shared.

Technology and content creation

For Yosh Dimen of The Poor Traveler, one of the top travel blogs in the Philippines, making the most of technology and focusing on content creation is what is helping him cope.

Dimen, who did not set foot outside his apartment complex for nine months, said he was able to get by doing everything online.

“From making a living (through blogging and team meetings via Zoom) to acquiring basic necessities (by having groceries/food delivered right to our doorstep) to running errands (like banking, paying bills, and shopping for household items) to getting distracted/entertained (YouTube/Netflix) to doing good (making donations) -- we did everything online,” he said.

Despite not being able to travel for months, the team behind The Poor Traveler kept the wanderlust alive through content creation.

“In fact, 2020 became our most productive year ever in spite of AND because of the COVID-19 challenges. As part of the travel industry, we had to work 10x harder to earn just a fraction of what we used to make. This pushed us to create more content and different types of content,” he added. 

According to Dimen, the pandemic forced them to explore new channels like Tiktok and create content they would never have touched otherwise (such as recipes and entertainment-type videos), which helped bring in a new audience. “It also pushed us to revisit projects that we had parked long ago,” he added.

Yoga, meditation, biking

Aside from reliving past trips during the months-long lockdown, travel blogger and photographer Ferdz Decena of Ironwulf turned to other interests and hobbies.

“To cope with being stuck in the city, yoga and meditation helped me keep centered. Honing my cooking skills made every day interesting. Netflix and books kept me entertained,” said Decena. But it’s biking that gave him an essential means of transportation and helped him keep that spark of wonder alive.

“Biking has helped me keep mobile and kept that spirit of exploration alive. Biking made everyday errands interesting as pedaling to places  gives that sense of freedom and control,” he added.

Since he bought a folding bike a few months after the pandemic hit full swing, he’s managed to rediscover the city on two wheels and uncover hidden gems in Laguna, Tagaytay, Antipolo, and more, seeing places in a new light, and venturing further every time.

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A post shared by Ferdz Decena (@ironwulf)

Digital nomad Aleah Taboclaon of Solitary Wanderer also discovered the joys of biking in another country, as she got stuck while traveling after international borders closed.

“When countries started closing down in 2020 due to the pandemic, I was in Belgium visiting my partner. I had intended to stay there for only three months, but I am still here now, almost one year later,” shared Taboclaon.

While she admits that learning to navigate an interracial and intercultural relationship, while being stuck at home on lockdown, has been a major challenge, she credits two Filipina friends abroad for “helping her get through difficult times” and the easy access to beautiful bike routes. 

“Whenever I am stressed, I would just take my bike on a short ride through the river, and I would go home invigorated. Belgium was never as strict as other countries in terms of lockdown restrictions, so even at the height of the pandemic, we were still able to go out to exercise. It has been a huge help to my mental and physical health,” she added.

Walking, neighborhood exploration

The lack of transportation and border controls has really hindered mobility for a lot of people, which has led many travel bloggers to pause, look around, and appreciate nearby destinations instead. 

“I don't have a car and I don't know how to ride a bike, so during ECQ when there was no public transport, I had to walk everywhere. I found that quite enjoyable, especially since the streets were deserted,” shared Nina Fuentes of Just Wandering. 

“As a traveler, I was always looking for places to visit that are often far from where I live, so this pandemic has given me the chance to discover and appreciate my own neighborhood,” she added. 

Cooking and baking

With travel on hiatus, travel bloggers turned to other interests and hobbies for sources of comfort and business opportunities. Nina managed to start a baking-related business during the lockdown.

“Another way I coped was to cook and bake. One of the things I miss most about traveling is trying the local cuisine. I learned how to cook some of my favorite dishes from overseas and started baking again. Since my income was severely affected by the pandemic, I started a small baking business, 'Therapy Ni Tita,'” shared Fuentes.

The home-based business offers delicious vegan Dark Chocolate Mousse made with moist chocolate cake and silky smooth mousse from locally grown cacao and vegetable cream, zesty lemon cake made with real lemons, zest and pulp included, oatmeal cookies, brookies and more. 

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A post shared by Nina Fuentes (@ninawanders)

Family, food-based business

Other travel bloggers used the downtime to strengthen family bonds. 

“It’s lucky that my family live together in one house so lockdown was not as difficult as some who had to battle loneliness and depression,” shared Lilliane Cobiao of Wanderlass.

“At the start, we treated the lockdown as sort of a holiday, thinking it to be temporary. We spent time watching a lot of Netflix, cooking, and eating a lot,” said Cobiao. But after three months, she realized that the situation was “far from going back to normal,” so she started a food-based business to keep busy.

“My sister and I were able to channel our love for food to something amazing—a home-based food delivery business that fits right into the realm of social distancing. This kept me busy and excited while staying put at home.”

Her start-up business Eats So Good provides easy to prepare premium food kits for the restaurant food experience at home. They have a Shabu-Shabu Kit, Sukiyaki Kit, Sundubu Kit, Bibimbap Kit, as well as Ready to Eat-Kimchi and Quinoa Salad and more. 

Simple pleasures

For Gretchen Filart of Filipina Explorer, the “simple pleasures and learning how to be comfortable with stillness” is what is helping her cope.

“Accepting that I am grieving both what is only temporarily here and all things that will never be here again, and sitting with those feelings. Words, work—knowing we will still have a roof over our head, food to eat, and bills that can be paid because of it when so many are not as fortunate—bike rides at dusk, cold beer every Saturday. My kid and good friends. Those two, above all,” said Filart.

Outlook for the year ahead

While many are hopeful that the travel situation will eventually normalize, most have scaled down their goals and are focusing on other endeavours.

We started 2020 with very ambitious goals, in terms of target viewership/readership numbers, and we were confident we would hit it. We also had a looong list of countries/destinations to visit. But the pandemic really threw a wrench into our plans and smashed a giant humble pie to our faces,” said Dimen.

While he plans to still travel “when it’s safe,” he says their team will make use of their time writing about past trips and diversifying the type of content they create. 

“For many years, we have been focusing more on TRAVEL, and less blogging. We had a mountain of backlog for years—we were traveling faster than we could write. This year, we're a little bit more conservative in terms of travel, but more adventurous in terms of blogging. We always take videos when we traveled even back then, but we don't usually publish them because we didn't have the time. This year is probably the best time to make use of the hours of footage we have recorded through the years,” he added.

Meanwhile, Decena hopes to “regain stability” this coming 2021. 

“The industry I’m in—travel and fitness was hit really hard. I hope to find an opportunity out of everything that’s happening and possibly start a business out of this. Travel will be interesting this year. I think it will be more intimate with small groups. Slow travel will also be popular. As places open up, I hope to cycle through some of my favorite places and see them through the perspective of being on two wheels using pedal power,” he said.

As a full-time freelancer, Taboclaon is aiming for greater financial success in 2021 through the stock market and trading, and plans to launch a website focused on Belgium. “Getting stuck here due to the pandemic has its advantages. It's a beautiful country and I'm looking forward to exploring and sharing more of it soon,” she shared.

Fuentes, who also manages a tour-based company in Sorsogon which has to pause operations, will be using the time to concentrate on her business and get essential chores done, “Since I'm marooned in Manila for the time being and I'm not seeing tourism being back in full swing in the near future, I am concentrating on growing my baking business in the meantime. I'm also going to use my time in Manila to focus on paperwork that I wasn't able to finish since I'm always flitting about.”

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A post shared by WANDERLASS (@wanderlass)

With news of the vaccine on the horizon, Cobiao remains hopeful that travel will be possible again this year.

“Now that (a) vaccine is here, I hope life will get back to rhythm, albeit with safety health protocols, and interntional borders will open soon for tourists. For 2021, I hope Egypt and Indonesia will welcome tourists as I have two pending dive trips from 2020 that’s already paid for but has to be postponed indefinitely (June, I hope!)”

As for goals this coming year, Filart said: "I am just trying to get through this day, to be honest.”

“We didn't set any travel goals this year. While we'd love to spend a couple of days in a beachfront Airbnb for summer and perhaps a longer road trip for special occasions and birthdays... but we don't set them as goals because everything is so fickle these days. So we just keep our doors open," she said.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the travel industry, what's important is to live in the present and focus on the things you can still do. The world may have gottten smaller and travel goals may not be as lofty as they once were, but there's nothing wrong with living one day at a time and not thinking too far ahead. 

(Images from Shutterstock)